My beloved mother Peggy passed away in Feb 2014. It took me a few weeks to gather my courage to go through her “bits and bobs”. In a blanket box behind the bedroom door, I found the bundle of letters tied with a red ribbon. Forty years ago this year, my best friend Catherine and I had
finished our Leaving Cert. It was 1983, the height of the recession. Most of Ireland had been badly hit but South Tipperary, where we lived, particularly so.
Catherine decided to take a job as an au-pair in France, near a small town in Brittany called Tregunc. By the end of that summer, I had decided, after much angst, to become articled to a local firm of accountants, attending the Regional College in Waterford. We promised faithfully to write to each other, which we did pretty much every two weeks for a year. I kept Catherine’s letters tied in that red ribbon, and in 1991 Catherine’s letters were joined by my own, when on a brief return to Ireland, Catherine handed mine back to me with the parting words “sure, you might get these published someday”. And that’s exactly what I did! Eight years ago. Penguin Books published our book, “Dear Cathy, Love Mary” on 1 October 2015.
Above: (left) Us in 1984.......(right) Us in 2018
Catherine and I have stayed the best of friends. Though we didn’t know it in 1983, she would never return to live in Ireland. Her journey, which began in Brittany, continued into the French Alps, on to the Sierra Nevada mountains in California and then to Oregon, USA where she now lives. I progressed with the chartered accountancy in Carrick, qualifying at 21, moving to Dublin in 1990 to work in international tax with Arthur Andersen, then in aircraft leasing with Nissho Iwai and Babcock & Brown before my last job before retirement as Head of Finance at the Irish Stock Exchange. The letters stayed in my family home in Carrick, forgotten by me until I opened that blanket box.
At first, the letters opened a doorway for me to my eighteen-year-old self which I found incredibly moving and I thought perhaps that I would compile them for Catherine, for her approaching 50th birthday. However, the more I read them, Catherine’s words came echoing back and the idea of a book took shape. In the month’s following Peggy’s death, I sat down most nights and drew the letters together in a manuscript. I then had to reveal my idea to Catherine! 😊
I have to say, we were both apprehensive about publication as the original letters were never meant for publication. They describe in open, honest detail Catherine’s experience of her first year in France; a year of struggling with a new language and new food, of adventure and excitement, of loneliness and shyness, but also of incredible happiness and joy. They describe my own first year in college; of newness and oddness, getting to know boys having come from an all-girls convent school, student politics, making friends from differing backgrounds, getting to grips with my accountancy course. We were somewhat typical teenagers rolling our eyes at our families, full of idealism of how the world should work…but catty and bitchy too. We hoped that in a book no one would be hurt or offended by any comments or observations made as careless eighteen-year-olds. We hoped the intervening years had taught us empathy and compassion if nothing else.
The letters are set against the backdrop of '80s Ireland; Kajagoogoo and Culture Club on the radio, “Dynasty” on the tele, Ronald Reagan’s visit to Ballyporeen, Ireland’s first motorway, the first abortion referendum. In this age of mobile phones, email and social media and instant everything, friends using a pen and paper to write long newsy letters and mailing them with stamps….and waiting a week for a reply seems insane.
The book tells of the year we grew up, of maturing relationships with parents/grandparents, of a changing Ireland in a changing world. It is by turns heart-breaking, funny, gutsy and tender. Mostly though it tells of us two young women and the friendship that sustained and enriched us across the miles …with all of the scolding, teasing, smothering with concern and sharing of woes and worries that makes up female friendship.
So, this week’s blog tells about getting the book published, the fun we had launching it and the support we got from everyone. The team at Penguin were just fabulous to deal with and made it such fun for us newbies. Locally, Patsy Fitzgerald and the Heritage Centre couldn’t do enough to help with the launch there and Linda at the Tudor Artisan Hub helped by stocking it locally. Our friends and family who turned out at the launches both in Dublin and Carrick really made the whole experience for Catherine and me. The book is still available to download but those who bought the hard cover book probably now have a collector’s item as it is hard to find now in hard cover copy, the intended gift book format. So, a big THANK YOU again eight years later to everyone! Enjoy!
Publishing “Dear Cathy … Love Mary”
My name is Mary and this is my bucket list blog ...having survived a near-death experience. I hope it encourages you to "live your best life". See how I'm completing my own bucket list items. And let me know how you're getting on with yours!